It's that time of year again-- flu season!

by Sarah Paxson We're already in the thick of it here in Raleigh.  The News & Observer reports that WakeMed has been particularly hard hit by the outbreak, which surprised health officials not only because of its intensity but because it arrived two months ahead of schedule. The health system’s six emergency rooms in Wake County have logged more than 1,400 cases of influenza or flu-like symptoms, compared to just 59 for the same time last year.  And America's doctors agree—it's a nasty flu season—one of the worst in years.  Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the flu is elevated across the country, with 24 states reporting high rates of doctor's visits by people trying to get some relief from the virus.

The 2013 flu season is serious.  Here's what you need to know:

  1. "We're not over the hump yet," says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Basically, we're in the middle of it."  The flu season began unseasonably early this year, but don't expect to to make a much-hoped-for early exit.  Areas in the South are still seeing a steady rate of hospitalizations.
  2. There are many different viruses going around this season, some of which can easily be mistaken for the flu.  Remember: the flu attacks the entire body, with body aches and respiratory symptoms.  How do you know if it's the flu or something else?  Check out this article on Rodale about Surviving the Worst Flu Season in Years for tips.
  3. Boost your immune system, with Vitamin D, Vitamin C, whole foods (avoiding processed foods when possible), and plenty of exercise.
  4. Know when to contact your doctor.  If your doctor IDs the flu within the first day or two, he or she may be able to prescribe an antiviral drug that can shorten the duration of the infection and reduce the risk of complications. That said, Dr. Schaffner says you should always see a doctor if your symptoms include a very high temperature, coughing up sputum, or difficulty breathing, or if a baby or young child becomes extremely lethargic. Doctors can then test for complications including pneumonia.